Film: Netflix: Nyad
Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
Cast: Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans, Karly Rothenberg, Jeena Yi, Luke Cosgrove, Eric T Miller and Garland Scott
‘I signed a contract with my soul to never give up.’ In a nutshell, this is the story of the indomitable will and determination of a marathon swimmer, Diana Nyad, whose memoirs ‘Find a Way’ have been adapted for the celluloid. Indeed, sports dramas are a dime a dozen, mostly motivational and often sensational too.
What makes Diana’s feat near superhuman and its cinematic retelling a cut above the rest is how she realised her dream more than three decades after it eluded her. Unimaginable it may sound on paper, but if at 28 Diana Nyad failed to swim from Cuba to Florida, she decided to give the impossible endeavour another go at 60.
The film begins with archival footage of her younger days and then begins the reel reliving of her dream. Sixty, the age at which the ‘world decides you are a bag of bones’, is when she takes a leap of faith. The film has landed into some controversy over factual representation and skirting over some unsavoury truths about Diana. But whether her record was ratified or not and whether her pompousness led to exaggerating her accomplishments, the film is steadfast in its approach. It is essentially an ode to the indefatigable spirit of a woman. Lending body and soul to this uplifting mood of the film is Annette Bening; clearly, here is an award-worthy performance. She not only owns the titular part but elevates it to a point where she is no more a star but every inch this woman whose audacity is as foolhardy as intrepid.
If self-belief had a face, that’s her. Each muscle in her body and each sinew of her facial expression speak in the language of determination and self-obsession.
Equally impressive is Jodie Foster as her friend-cum-coach-cum-inspiration-cum-compass. As Bonnie, she is nudging, guiding and even interrupting Diana’s ‘I, me, myself’ banter. You could call hers a supporting role, but Foster is as much the backbone of the film. As far as women-centric films go, this one deserves kudos for daring to make one with two aged friends at the heart of it. Despite their individual sexual orientations, there is no attempt to sexualise their relationship, which is lit by the warmth of love, affection and sincerity. The duo keeps the momentum going and the narrative sheds excess baggage. But for a backstory involving Diana’s abusive coach Jack Nelson (Eric T Miller) and a few scenes with her inspirational father, the directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin of the Academy Award winner documentary ‘Free Solo’ fame do not create unnecessary drama.
The tension lies in the turbulent seas (captured magnificently by cinematographer Claudio Miranda) where apart from physical challenges, Diana’s mental state, too, pulsates. In one scene, she is shown hallucinating and can see Taj Mahal. Of course, it’s not just the 103-mile sea course which tests the sexagenarian’s endurance and physical strength. The long-distance swimmer has to navigate her way in a sea infested with jelly fish and sharks. While she shunned shark-cage for she did not care to have an asterisk mar her life’s biggest achievement, an anti-jelly fish mask which she had to wear was not the easiest encumbrance to support either. But her resolve in the face of adversities is exemplary. Even when her dear friend Bonnie and navigator of the boat John Bartlett (stoic and wry Rhys Ifans) refuse to back her after failed attempts, Diana, who does not believe in any ‘imposed limitations’, does not buckle.
The climax is on expected lines. Yet, it does not take away the inspirational and emotive power of the film. Dreams need not die young.